We are so happy to introduce Margaret Blackman to our MDB readers! We met Margaret and her special needs dogs, Heidi and Arthur at the recent Beaconsfield Pet Fair. Margaret has a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to disabled pets and we’re thrilled to welcome her onboard, to share her stories with you!
About Margaret Blackman:
Mild mannered accountant by day and “Crazy Dog Lady” by night, pets have been part of Margaret’s life from a very early age and she has been heavily involved in rescue for the last 10 years as a foster home and emergency responder. She currently shares her home with 5 teckels (dachshunds) plus a varying number of fosters. These monthly articles will focus on the two “different” dachshunds: Heidi, who uses a wheelchair and Arthur, who was born without eyes. Do not feel sorry for either one of them, they may be different but neither should be considered handicapped or disabled. They are happy, healthy and just part of the pack.
I will always remember that overwhelming feeling of panic as I held my new adoptee, Heidi, in my arms and watched the person who drove the last leg of her transport leave the meeting place. “What had I gotten myself into?”
But let’s go back to the beginning of this story.
My dachshund, Valentin, was very lonely after our golden retriever passed suddenly from leukemia. I searched the Dachshund Rescue of North America (DRNA) website for a new buddy for Valentin, starting with those who had been waiting the longest for their forever home. Miss Heidi Ho Ho had been waiting 6 months for her own family and I immediately fell in love with this spunky little girl.
This beautiful girl had been passed over time and time again by potential adopters because she was marked as “special needs. Heidi was one of those dachshunds to suffer a back injury and not recover. The rescue had provided a wheelchair for her to get around. Heidi’s disc injury was not “complete” meaning that some messages did get through the spinal cord. Her bowels and bladder did function but she could not feel when she had to eliminate and so wore baby diapers. I did not have any experience with back injuries, but after several long telephone conversations with Heidi’s foster mom about Heidi’s care, everyone felt that this was “the” match for Heidi.
So back to that parking lot where I am holding this little 9 pound girl, breaking into a cold sweat and thinking “What have I gotten myself into?” I had no clue how to use her wheelchair and her diaper was definitely soggy. I had talked to her foster mom about changing diapers, but it is entirely a different story when you are actually holding a soggy diaper. Heidi’s transport had taken 2 days and 13 “legs” for volunteers to move her from South Carolina to Canada, so there was no going back.
Heidi has a wonderful nature and was very patient with my learning curve. For the first several months, I desperately guarded the last diaper her foster mom had sent with her. This was my template to cut the hole in new diapers for Heidi’s tail. The fate of the free world depended on me to get that hole cut “just right”. At first, I was very awkward handling Heidi, I was so afraid of hurting or “breaking” her. Heidi soon taught me that she was no more fragile than any other dachshund. Time and practice changing diapers 3 times a day soon made this procedure routine.
Internet research led me to Dodger’s List, an online resource and support group of fellow pet owners dealing with back/spinal cord issues. I learned what had worked for others and what had not worked. I adapted these ideas to fit our individual circumstances.
And during all this, what was Heidi doing? Heidi was being a dog. When not in her cart, she would “ski” on her bum, using her front legs for propulsion. She wrestled and played with Valentin. Very early on, Heidi established herself as the alpha of the household. She would collect all the toys, taking some right out from under Valentin’s nose . Heidi sat on the pile of toys and dared Valentin to try to take one. Yet, come nap time, they would cuddle up together, often so entwined that it was difficult to tell where one dog stopped and the other one started.
I often joke that Heidi did not get the memo declaring her handicapped, disabled or special needs. The neighbourhood kids call her “one tough puppy”, a tribute to her dachshund determination. Heidi does not back down from anyone or anything. Chihuahua or Great Dane, Heidi stands her ground against all comers.
Heidi is the first handicapped pet in our area to qualify as a certified pet therapy dog. The examination board made a big deal about her “handicap”; my vet had to send a letter testifying that Heidi was not in any pain or suffering before they would even accept our application. I swear that Heidi could feel the preconceived ideas in that testing room. She absolutely shone, acing every situation and test. Heidi passed with a perfect score, while some of the “normal” dogs failed that day, and some were given conditional passes with certain items to work on. The seniors at the nursing home love her because of the similarities (she is now a “senior” herself, wheelchair and her version of Depends), yet she has a job and a purpose.
The most common comment I receive from strangers is how wonderful I am to have taken on all this extra work (meaning Heidi’s care). Heidi’s care is just “different”. Honestly, she is no more work than any of the others; perhaps even less “work”. There is no more credit for taking care of Heidi than for taking care of any other pet. Heidi’s condition seemed overwhelming at first, but now I don’t think of her or her care any differently from the others.
I was very touched and thrilled when Nat asked me to become a contributor and talk about the special needs kids. My hope is that the stories of our day to day life will bring a smile to the reader’s face and perhaps help someone someday; either to open your hearts to a special needs pet, or provide some tools if you should face such challenges with your own pet.
Next month you will meet Arthur, who is all boy and all puppy, who relies on his ears and nose to function very well – eyes were an option he was not born with.
To write to Margaret with your handicapped pet queries, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org